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Study: How to fix Long Island's crumbling roads faster and cheaper

A Hempstead Town highway worker fills a pothole

A Hempstead Town highway worker fills a pothole on Roberta Lane in Merrick.  Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Islanders get their roads fixed cheaper and faster when local governments pay for a single project and not a bundle of repairs or an open-ended contract, a new study shows.

The conclusion is one of the findings from an analysis of 62 projects in Nassau County and the towns of Islip, Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Smithtown. 

Two trade industry groups, the Long Island Contractors' Association and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, conducted the analysis because two-thirds of spending for road maintenance and new construction comes from the Island's counties, cities, towns and villages.

Local governments spent an average of $271 million a year on highways, streets and bridges from 2014 to 2017; New York State's share worked out to an average of nearly $143 million a year for the same period, the data show.

State spending, however, is expected to drop in the next couple of years — from $274 million in 2018 to $109 million in 2020, making the money from local governments even more important, the analysis found.

“Priorities need to be shifted to look at our bridges, roads and transit systems because everyone knows the conditions need to be addressed,” said Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island trade group. “The greatest amount of traffic and the most difficult weather conditions have created a horrible situation that requires attention.”

The state Transportation Department's current five-year capital bridge and road repair plan allocates nearly $1.5 billion for the Long Island region, said spokesman Stephen Canzoneri.

Major projects include the reconstruction and elevation of the Nassau Expressway, the repair of the Loop Parkway drawbridge and pavement renewal along Route 112 to Granny Road in Brookhaven, he said.

“It is premature to speculate about future state transportation funding on Long Island since we are in the process of developing the next five-year capital spending program, which begins in April 2020,” Canzoneri said.

Government employees perform nearly 80 percent of roadwork; contractors do the rest, the data show.

For the 20 percent of projects put up for bid, the type of contract, the duration of work and the timing played a key role in bid prices and the total value of the work — a fact that shows local investment decisions matter, the analysis found.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran promised to consider the findings as the county moves forward with future roadwork. 

“Continued investment in our vast roadway network and bridge infrastructure is critically important,” Curran said in a statement.

The 62 projects in the analysis had a value of nearly $200 million, according to the contracts. All the work was signed by the previous leaders of the county and townships, said Herbst. 

On the Island, road and bridge repair contracts generally come in three forms: a specific project; a bundle of jobs; and open-ended contracts, for materials and goods, the report found. 

Open-ended contracts often have fewer bidders but typically generate lower bid prices because they give a degree of stability to the winner. Multiyear contracts, used most often in Islip and Smithtown, also come with higher risk because material costs fluctuate.

For example, the price of asphalt — the second-biggest cost associated with road projects, behind labor — goes up and down an average of as much as 13 percent a year, the report said.

Nassau and Suffolk often include language in their contracts that allow for a price adjustment if the cost changes significantly, but many smaller towns and villages don't, officials said.

The average bid price for a ton of asphalt in 2015 was $90 for open-ended contracts, $80 for bundled contracts and $106 for specific projects, the report found. A year later, the open-ended price decreased, a good deal for companies with multiyear contracts. 

“So, if you want to go with a long-term contract, you may be putting the taxpayer on the line if those  prices drop,” Herbst said.

Road contractors, on the other hand, want to know where the work is coming from year to year so they can budget and hire accordingly, said Joseph Posillico, who heads Posillico Civil Inc.

Posillico's Farmingdale-based company gets about 10 percent of its $400 million annual net revenue from road repaving contracts in Nassau, Suffolk and North Hempstead.

“We are always looking for consistent funding to keep the flow of road and bridge rehabilitation projects going,” Posillico said. “And from all of the studies we’ve seen it’s needed given the age and wear and tear that our roads undergo.”

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